We love stories of Black women protecting other Black women!
Leseliey Welch is protecting Black mothers and newborns all over the nation with the Birth Center Equity.
Putting an end to the maternal mortality crisis requires full support from our communities and all hands on deck. Serena Williams, who was open about her birthing experience, shared that she almost lost her life while giving birth and is now investing in Mahmee, a startup that works to end the maternal mortality crisis affecting Black women. A Louisiana midwife, Shatamia Webb, opened Baby Catcher Birth Center, the first Black-owned birth center in the state last year! Now, Leseliey Welch is also making a change towards the maternal mortality crisis after watching her sister-in-law lose her preterm son after being born and having her own experience of delivering a preterm baby and having a miscarriage.
Not only is Welch a devoted partner and mom, but she is also a University of Michigan (U-M) graduate, earning three degrees from the university: Bachelor of Women's Studies, Master of Public Health with a certificate in Women’s and Reproductive Health, and a Master of Business Administration. She taught at her alma mater for fifteen years as a professor in Women’s Studies. There, she developed practicum courses on women's leadership, nonprofit, management, community engagement, and feminist practice. Welch has also served as interim Executive Director of Birthing Project USA and Deputy Director of Public Health for the city of Detroit, where she collaborated on the development of Michigan’s first comprehensive LGBTQ health center.
Welch’s latest project is Birth Center Equity (BCE), which works on attaining capital and operational funding for birth centers around the U.S. Birth Center Equity “works with and for BIPOC community birth center leaders to collectively access full spectrum capital at scale, to nurture beliefs, practices, and models of abundance among community birth centers, and to build beloved communities with caregiving, regeneration, and mutuality at the heart of our health system and our economy.”
Women in the United States typically give birth in hospitals, which costs around $14,768 for vaginal births and $26,280 for C-Sections. From 2004-2017, home births increased by 77% while birth center births more than doubled. However, people are still facing disparities with birth centers being inaccessible in many communities.
The initiative began in 2020. She and Nashira Baril started receiving high demand from women wanting to deliver their babies in a safe space like a birthing center versus a hospital that was ridden with COVID-19. To ensure birthing center doors can remain open without fundraising, Welch and Baril joined forces with Julie Quiroz, Taj James, Rachel Burrows, and Ruben Hernandez to create Birth Center Equity as a channel for resources to increase access during COVID-19 and to create a vibrant lasting community birth center infrastructure across the country.
In an interview with Forbes, Welch stated, “Birth centers and midwives see birth as a normal physiological life process that does not normally require medical intervention and surgery. Research supports that 80% to 87% of us can safely give birth with midwives in a community setting. But in the U.S., we do the exact opposite, and that’s not an accident.”
In 2020, BCE raised over $1M and distributed emergency operating funds to more than 25 birth centers led by BIPOC. By the end of 2021, an additional $500,000 was distributed. By 2023, they predict 15 developing birth centers could open in communities that don’t currently offer birth center care. The goal is to raise $100 million over the next ten years, which can be used to support numerous birthing centers all over the nation!
The Michigan native is so indebted to the cause that she also co-founded Birth Detroit, a birth center that is currently offering perinatal care. Construction is set to be complete some time next year then they can begin delivering babies and offering midwife assistance through pregnancy and birth. Welch stated a part of Birth Detroit's commitment is “to not turn anyone away in need of services.”
These initiatives are headed in the right direction, and we’ll be keeping tabs on the progression of Detroit's newest birthing center. We hope this inspires you to make a difference in your community for the issues you find most important!
You go, Mrs. Welch!
Photo: JASON M. WALKER/BIRTH DETROIT